Up Next: Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna Wear Her Jewelry

Martine Ali

Age 31

Hometown Chicago

Now Lives In a minimal one-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where the lights are seldom on but a record always is.

Claim to Fame Ms. Ali has a namesake line of unisex jewelry that evokes early 2000s hip-hop with its street-wear-inspired use of hardware staples like chains, dog tags and safety pins. The line is carried by influential stores including Opening Ceremony and Kith, and the rapper Kendrick Lamar is a fan and has worn her bracelet, necklace and wallet chain on tour this year, as well as in several videos, including “Humble” and “Element.” “That was definitely the moment I saw a pretty literal spike in business and industry love,” Ms. Ali said. “Kendrick made my designs recognizable.” And just this month Rihanna wore Ms. Ali’s bracelets and earring in her “Lemon” video with N.E.R.D, which the designer long considered a dream.

N.E.R.D & Rihanna – Lemon Video by NERDVEVO

Big Break In 2010, while interning at DKNY, Ms. Ali would wear her homemade pieces around the office. One day, her jewelry got noticed by Jane Chung, then the designer, who commissioned her to create pieces for the coming collection. The day before the show, Donna Karan herself saw the pieces and asked if Ms. Ali could adapt them as handbag adornments. “After that it changed from a hobby to a skill and an asset,” Ms. Ali said.


Ms. Ali shows off pieces from her namesake jewelry collection. Credit Amanda Jasnowski Pascual for The New York Times

Latest Project Ms. Ali collaborated with the Australian-American designer Matthew Adams Dolan to create a jewelry collection that will be available at Opening Ceremony for the holidays. The collection, featuring delicate pieces rendered in gold and pearl, is a departure from her usual aesthetic (“like if I were a painter going from oil to watercolor,” she said) and feels decidedly more feminine.

Next Project She is collaborating with Assembly New York, a Lower East Side boutique, on a range of leather-and-silver accessories. “They do these really cool vinyl bags and other pieces that we’re going to mess with,” she said. “I don’t plan a lot, you know?”

Shes the Boss In a retail world increasingly dominated by mega-brands and luxury conglomerates, Ms. Ali cherishes her freedom as a smaller, self-run brand with uninhibited creative control. She believes that selling to customers directly from her website, and communicating with them through Instagram, sets her apart. “I can’t tell you how valuable that is these days — to be seen as a person and not Amazon,” she said.

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